California Governor Gavin Newsom on Friday signed an executive order to ensure every registered voter in the state is automatically mailed a ballot for the November presidential election. The executive order does not replace in-person voting, Newsom said during a press conference.

“Mail-in ballot is important but it’s not an exclusive substitute to physical locations,” Newsom said. He added that the state is still working to have “the appropriate number of physical sites for people to vote as well.”

Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who’s been pushing to expand vote by mail, called into Newsom’s press conference and said the executive order makes California the first state in the nation to automatically send voters their ballots ahead of the general election in response to the coronavirus.

“I think that’s huge. There is no safer, physically distancing, healthier way to exercise your right to vote than from the safety and convenience of your own home,” Padilla said. He added that all return postage for the ballots will be prepaid.  

Padilla echoed Newsom’s remarks that this will not be a “vote-by-mail election only,” and stressed his commitment to providing as many in-person voting sites as possible. But, he warned there is a shortage of election workers.

Traditional Election Day volunteers, older Californians who might be retired, fall into the high-risk category.

“We need people who are willing and able and healthy to help us out on Election Day and the early voting time period,” Padilla said.

Local counties have until the end of this month to provide the state with clarity on their plans for in-person voting requirements. Newsom said if those plans are not in by May 30, a second executive order might be needed to resolve issues.

The concept of mail-in voting has been at the forefront of the debate over how to proceed with November’s presidential election while dealing with a public health pandemic.

Four states already conduct their general elections by mail, and Hawaii will become the fifth state to move in that direction this year. Another 28 states and Washington D.C. offer “no-excuse” absentee or mail voting, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Last month, Padilla told CBS News that most states already have some capacity for vote-by-mail elections.

But election officials from both parties were sounding the alarm about the need for more resources to ensure health safety and expand alternatives to in-person and day-of voting. They also anticipated protracted partisan fights over what the general election could and should look like amid coronavirus.

The Republican National Committee, which has been pushing back against a widespread vote-by-mail system, said Friday it is “weighing our legal options” in response to Newsom’s order. “While we have always supported absentee voting, California is a case study in why automatically sending this many ballots is a problem,” RNC spokesman Michael Ahrens said in a statement.

At the national level, President Trump is leading the charge against vote-by-mail. Mr. Trump has alleged people cheat with vote-by-mail ballots and has it a “corrupt” practice. In a statement to CBS News, Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh said Newsom’s is looking to “undermine election security,” calling the executive order a “thinly-veiled political tactic.”

Murtaugh argued that sending everyone a ballot – even those who don’t want one – creates a “wide open opportunity for fraud.”

“Everyone is concerned about the safety of voters, but jeopardizing election security is the wrong way to go about it.”

National Republican Congressional Committee chair Tom Emmer also came out with a statement slamming Newsom, alleging the governor “continues to dodge questions about ballot harvesting posing an immediate threat to public health.” 

California already allows vote-by mail but voters have to specifically make a request for the ballot. This executive order, Padilla said, will make it so that voters automatically get a ballot without have to put in an official request.

Registered voters currently living in California will receive a ballot 29 days prior to Election Day. Military members and voters living abroad will get their ballots in the mail 45 days before Election Day.

Nicole Sganga contributed reporting.

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